You carry your jar of fireflies

You carry your jar of fireflies

into the darkest night,

trusting in them as your only guide

as the midnight settles in.

But the thing about fireflies, trapped in a jar–
they never last the night. So
open the lid and shake them
free and follow the light in your
soul instead–

the light only darkness reveals.

©stephanie pepper, 2020

fistful

I cut a fistful of daisies from
the hillside this morning, and
carried them home to you.
From under the sink I
pulled an old jar and
filled it with water from the tap;
then gathered the stems and
let them fall wide
to cover the mouth of the jar.
I carried them to you, there where
you sat, in a chair by the
window, not seeing the light.
You smiled, and said thank you,
then looked to the floor.
Not even the sunlight that
dropped from the petals
brightened your eyes at all. 

©️stephanie pepper, 2020

Nice Mill Dam, October 2019

How I wish you could see the
river this morning,
all swollen and fat,
running fast from the first real rain
of autumn after the long
drought of summer.

The riffles have turned to
rapids; the water foams white
as it tumbles over the rocky
shelf in the shallows
near the bank where
I sometimes sit to pray.

On the weir, I sit in the middle of the river,
and see that the water, surely,
rolled over this rocky dam in the night,
washing up sticks and leaves and mud,
now caught in the ledges,
lodged in the cracks.

And I think how you would love
the river, the way I love the river, this sanctuary
on earth. How, in the presence of the
river, eternity breaks through time, breaks
through space, and flows
into the soul, and into the heart, and stands.

With the grey sky, it is clear, now,
that autumn has fallen at last, and
fallen, truly, without you. But I
remember love, and how
once you have loved,
you always love.

So I release you to this
river, to be carried far from me; for
I cannot hold you here, cannot keep
you here with me. So go now,
and be, and live freely, in
hope, the life given.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

Swallowing sorrow

This ancient darkness twists
its way into my mind again, and
into my soul, like knotted
thorns braided around

barbed wire–their sharpness pricking,
drawing blood; my anguished
heart seeping and my mind
a tangled nest of brittle, dying vines.

The morning sun caressing my face
doesn’t scare the darkness.
My mind wraps and curls
around itself, swaddling melancholy

with an ache of tears. This sadness,
older than time, reaches
back to the beginnings,
stretches forward into eternity.

The warm mug
cradled in my hands
underscores the chill in my
heart. Lifting the cup

to my lips, steam kisses my
face with damp heat, the spicy-citrus
bergamot fills my nose
and I stare down into my own unknown

eyes reflected in the tea.
Tears drop from those eyes into the
mug, mingling with the tea, and I swallow my
salty sorrow with each sip.

Cling tight, he said, to the
sorrow that’s been given, and insist
that beauty still blooms
radiant from ashes.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

Rituals

A mourning dove sits alone
on a wire stretched between
poles–one in my yard and
the other in the neighbor’s
yard two doors down.

I’m watching from the porch below,
and as I watch I imagine–though
it’s impossible for me to know–
that this is the same bird I see
every morning, perched in that
same spot on the wire,
preening his feathers, lifting
each wing and digging with his beak.

And I think, does he wonder about
me? Watching me, does he imagine
that I am the same creature that comes
every morning to perch on the same yellow chair,
drink tea from the same sugar skull
mug? The same bare feet propped on the same
railing with an open book resting in my lap?
Though really, it’s impossible for him to know.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

Etched

A leaf lets go and dying,
falls to the ground; falls
into the fresh concrete of a
new sidewalk, still staked
and taped off. Immortalized
now, the spidery veins
streak out from the midrib,
etched boldly, precisely, and
yet, a shadowed representation
of its existence.
Life is losing and
finding, and losing again,
hoping, in the end, to find.
Living is a thousand little
deaths; and a thousand and
one resurrections.
And the lines of all my
deaths are etched into my
skin, absorbed into my soul.
But isn’t that just it; we’re
all living to die? And in
dying, perhaps, living. 

© stephanie pepper, 2019

When the night is on its way to morning

Sometimes, when the night
is well on its way to morning,
I lie awake beside you. The
sheets are hot and twisted
beneath me, but you, soundly
asleep and softly snoring, know
none of this. I want to reach out
and brush your hand, the one that
rests so close to my knee—not to wake you—
but just to feel you; to borrow
your dreams. I turn, and shift the
pillows as silently as I can,
and though I’m careful not to
touch you, my rustling disturbs
you just enough, and you whisper
from your sleep, “I love you.”

The words fall like a blessing.

©️stephanie pepper, 2019

Catfight

In the yard across from mine,
as dusk settles in, two
of the street’s stray cats–one
orange, the color of apricot jam, and the
other white with black patches (or black with white,
whichever you prefer)–hiss and screech,
roll around end over end
in the uncut grass raising a
terrible ruckus. And I think of
my high school cafeteria, and
two girls yelling, and painted
nails clawing and scratching,
snatching fistfuls of teased up
hair held high by AquaNet while a
dozen kids circle as witness—
FIGHT! FIGHT!

I didn’t intervene then either.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

Tuesday morning I left the house

Tuesday morning I left the house
and when I returned after a short time
the top half (or maybe the bottom) of a bright
blue eggshell lay on the third porch step.
If it was there when I left those 40 minutes prior

I did not notice, my mind engaged
as it was on sunglasses, and earbuds,
and music for running. But there, now,
in the center of the concrete step,
the freshly vacated remnants that housed

a life lay curved side to the sun. Robin egg
blue, a color itself, and aptly so, for it needs
no qualifier or extra words. And for three days–
from Tuesday until Friday afternoon,
it lay undisturbed in the middle of

the step, as he and I came and went,
came and went, carrying in bags of groceries,
a pizza, the mail, and carrying out garbage and waste.
It lay as if encased in a protective bubble–a shell perhaps,
until this afternoon I came in again and

up the step, pausing, as had become my habit
these three days, to observe how perfectly it lay.
My shoulders sank as I saw it crushed. I was so careful and
had not felt it under my foot as I descended the steps,
but could my sneakered foot have struck the blow

and I so unaware? Before me lay
the fragments scattered and ground fine
by a foot. Now I think, and maybe aloud,
it is solace, shell, that your one-time tenant
broke her lease and she now resides in a

fine new nest of twigs and grass, bound
by hundreds of beaksful of mud, somewhere near–
in the eaves of the house, or a tree nearby, and
feeds from her father’s beak on worms and bugs,
moving through life from one fragile dwelling to another.

©stephanie pepper, 2019

In hell this hope conceived

I see you sitting, like
a stone, and know you find
my hope obscene.
And–except for this–

I would agree that
hope thrown around with all the
weight of a feather–however sincere–
is a hollow void.

But here, listen
and I will tell you the
truth of how it was born
and from where it comes,

then you may
decide its goodness–
or not–and how much
my word is worth.

You see, I have kissed the
searing gates of Hell, pressed
up hard against them; my body
now burned and scarred.

In Hell this hope conceived;
in depths of sorrow void of light,
the seed of despair
joined the seed of longing

in the womb of my soul
where it grew and
stretched out in a wounded,
wide-eyed knowledge of truth.

A violent hope, alive,
now breathes in me
in full awareness of the torment
of despair and the beauty of grace.

This hope, birthed in darkness
and baptized with tears, is
here, in my hand–
my friend: a gift for you.

©stephanie pepper, 2019